The UK workforce 2.0: the four-day workweek explained

BY Nicole Sopkovich   |  

The COVID-19 Pandemic has significantly changed the professional space and shifted from flexible working to compressed hours. But the question arises, can this change lead to a four-day working week?  

Recently, many countries, including Japan, UAE, and New Zealand, have adopted a four-day workweek model and have seen evidence of an increase in the productivity of their employees. 

In the second half of 2022, over 60 UK-based companies signed up for a pilot initiative, testing the four-day work week. We have reviewed the eye-opening results and evaluated the highlights, lowlights and how this could be adopted further. 

Understanding the response from the UK four-day workweek trial. 


The trial's design called for two months of participant preparation, which included workshops, coaching, mentorship, and peer support. It also drew on the expertise of businesses that had already adopted a reduced workweek and that of top research and consultancy firms. Each business created a policy specific to its industry, organisational issues, departmental structures, and work culture, rejecting the notion that the four-day workweek must be "one size fits all". So, a variety of four-day work weeks were created, including "staggered," "decentralised," "annualised," and "conditional" structures, in addition to the traditional "Friday off" models. 

The trial ended up being a huge success. Among the 61(1) organisations that took part, 56 have continued to use the four-day workweek (92%), with 18 (30%) stating that the change is permanent. 

The workforce's well-being was one area where shorter hours had the most significant advantages. After the study, "before and after" data(2) reveals that 39% of employees were less stressed, and 71% had lower levels of burnout. Moreover, anxiety, exhaustion, sleep problems lessened, and physical and mental health improved. 

Over the course of the trial period, work-life balance metrics also got better. Also, employees found it simpler to juggle work with social and family obligations (54% said it was simpler to juggle work with household chores) and were happier with their relationships, finances, and time management in their homes. 

Several significant business metrics, though, also indicated a benefit from less working hours. For instance, businesses' revenue(3), weighted by firm size, increased by an average of 1.4% among respondent organisations over the trial period. Organisations reported revenue increases(4) of 35% on average compared to a comparable time in prior years, which suggests good growth throughout this period of working time reduction. Over the course of the experiment, there was a significant 57% decrease in the number of employees leaving the participating organisations. For many, the advantages of a four-day workweek outweighed any monetary value. 15% of workers claimed that no amount of pay would persuade them to prefer a five-day schedule to the four-day week they were now used to it. 

a four-day week

Participating companies were asked what their plans were subsequent to the trial. 

Source: World Economic Forum 

Would a four-day week work for your business?  

How will you know this four-day workweek model works for your business? It's a huge test and a massive operation change. To help you understand, here are some of the pros and cons that resulted from the study. 


Pros of a four-day workweek 

  1. Reduction in cost:   Assuming not on the staggered model, a four-day working week means the office will be closed for one additional day, significantly reducing office operating expenses. In addition, employees will also benefit from a reduction in their commute and other office expenses. 
  2. Work-life balance: In a non-staggered model, A three-day weekend allows employees to spend more time with their families, reducing the risk of burnout and enhancing their work-life balance. Being able to devote more time to what you enjoy increases overall happiness and can aid in boosting employee loyalty. 
  3. Better mental health: According to charity Mind(5), 1 in 6 of us experience mental health problems in any given week. Improved work-life balance will lead to better mental well-being. 
  4. Increased productivity:  An in-depth examination of the relationship and productivity conducted by Sanford University(6) revealed a clear correlation between the two factors. Overworked employees are less productive than employees working an average or typical week. 
  5. Improved employee engagement:   As they have plenty of time to rest and recover, employees are less likely to feel pressured or need to take time off for illness. As a result, employees will feel prepared to take on new tasks when they return to work. 
  6. Employee retention: Offering a more flexible work schedule is undoubtedly a benefit that keeps employees in a company in the millennial age. 

    According to research(7), 63% of employers found finding and keeping qualified employees when they worked a four-day week simpler. So, this work-life bonus, a relatively uncommon provision, can be a terrific way to attract and retain the best talent. 
  7. Create an equal workplace: According to research(8) on the gender pay gap conducted by the Government Equalities Office, 89% of the two million British citizens currently unemployed due to childcare obligations are women. Employees could spend more time with their families and better balance work and care obligations if the workweek was reduced to four days. 

Challenges of the four-day work week. 

  1. Increased working hours: Several businesses have questioned whether it's possible to fulfil some duties just four days a week. Most employees working four days should expect to put in the same 40-hour weeks, just over four rather than five days. Moreover, lengthening shifts may significantly affect the stress levels of employees. 
  2. Short-term gain: It is accurate to say that workers who worked four days a week felt more satisfied with their level of independence, sense of value, and job stability than those who worked a five-day workweek. Employee morale will surely increase if a company adopts the four-day workweek, it continued, but it will gradually return to pre-four-day workweek levels as the 'newness' wears off. 
  3. Managing client needs: Besides handling client needs, scheduling internally could be problematic. For example, planned meetings can be scheduled during the work week. However, unplanned or urgent appointments may cause issues. 
  4. Not suitable for all industries: It can be challenging to establish a four-day workweek for some businesses that need availability around the clock. For instance, a four-day workweek could make it difficult for the business to handle customer support issues. 

Regardless of the sector, businesses must handle issues on weekdays and weekends. To cover every part of the business during the workday requires organisation and thinking. 

Does four-day workweek work for all industries? 

Several industries necessitate a presence seven days a week, which could render a short workweek impossible. Examples include logistics, public transportation systems, emergency services and teaching. The national trial's report shows that businesses must create work weeks tailored to their and their industry's needs. The research stated that instead of adopting a "one-size-fits-all" approach to the four-day workweek, each company created a plan specific to its industry, organisational issues, departmental structures, and work culture. 

Some businesses gave all employees Fridays off, while others staggered employees' days, and still, others left it up to teams or individuals to decide how to set out the work week. 

Final Thoughts. 

With a shorter work week, many businesses and employees have found success and benefited from higher productivity and more time to pursue hobbies and personal objectives. However, a four-day timetable does not apply to all industries, organisations, or people. 

The COVID-19 Pandemic's insistence on a global re-evaluation of labour has generated interest in the four-day workweek concept. Nevertheless, making it the new standard will require a cultural and mental transformation that downplays work.  

MBA would be interested to hear from a business considering a four-day working work or any amendments to the usual 40-hour criteria. What did you decide? What did you consider in the process?  

 End notes 

  1. World economic forum: The world's biggest trial of the four-day work week has come to an end. 
  2. Autonomy work: The results are in: the UK's four-day week pilot| 
  3. World economic forum: The world's biggest trial of the four-day work week has come to an end. 
  4. 4-day work week trial yields overwhelming success in UK. 
  5. Mental health facts and statistics 
  6. Stanford university: The Relationship Between Hours Worked and Productivity 
  7. 4-day week: The pilot results are here! 
  8. Sage: gender pay gap reporting. 
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